A Balinese Ghost

July 23rd, 2007

Okay, ghost story number two.

If you’re reading these top to bottom, you’re actually reading them beginning with the most recent, so you might not know that the story just below this one is about my encounter with a ghost in Pattaya, Thailand — without any doubt, the most terrifying experience of my life. If you haven’t read it, you might want to do so now and then come back to this one. Or you could ignore the paragraph above completely and just read on.

This happened to me in the middle 1980s, in Bali. Bali was then, as it is now, one of the world’s spiritual vortexes: one of the places where the force of the spirit pushes its way through everyday life like bones emerging beneath the skin of a face. The island is teeming with spirits. Every village has its temples, its spirit gates. Offering to the spirits, in the form of elaborately carved leaves, fruits, and flowers, are created daily and scattered over streets and sidewalks. In the red-walled temples, ancient stories are still danced almost daily — the tourist audiences are almost incidental — and in one of the most stunning stage effects I’ve ever seen, the sudden entry of a god is heralded by a bucket of flower-petals thrown over the wall in front of which the dancer playing the god is standing. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and it never fails to take my breath away.

And then there are the not-so-benign spirits. I haven’t ever actually seen any, but this happened to me, and I swear — as I did in the previous story — that every word of it is true.

I was staying on Kuta Beach, not quite then the frantic tourist town it is now. I had hiked half a mile or so along a red-dirt road to eat dinner in town, and about nine o’clock I decided to go back to the room, but instead of taking the road, I’d create a short-cut by walking through the coconut plantation the road wound between.

The moon was full. Coconut trees are planted pretty far apart, so there was lots of light: silvery ground, the shadows of trees like cardboard cut-outs, more silvery ground. The lights of the town had faded behind me and those of the hotel area where I was staying had not come into sight, and I was thinking this was an unforgettable experience: the silver moon, the coconut palms, the shadowed trees.

And then, in front of me, I saw a darker shadow, not shaped like a tree. It was, instead, vaguely circular, maybe 12-15 feet across, like something dark and irregular thrown over the ground. I thought I’d check it out, and I approached to about ten feet from it.

And then I didn’t want to check it out any more. I saw that the dark area was a hole, and as I looked into it, something brushed the back of my neck and then absolute terror, all the way to the cellular level, wrapped arms around my chest and began to squeeze. I knew I could feel something breathing on my back.

It took all the strength I had to free my arms. The moment I could move them, I started running, to the right, as far away from the hole as possible. Behind me, I could hear something like a whisk broom: tsshhhhh-tsshhhhhhh-tshhhhhhhh. I ran faster, hearing that dry scrape of a sound until the lights of my hotel came into sight. My hotel was surrounded by a stone wall about four feet high, which I cleared without a moment’s hesitation, running across the lawn and not stopping until I was in the bar, all full of nice sane drunk Aussies. I got as drunk as they were and then flopped onto the bed with the lights burning and went to sleep.

The next day, at high noon, I forced myself back into the coconut grove, but nowhere could I find any sign of the hole.

3 Responses to “A Balinese Ghost”

  1. RJ Baliza Says:

    It’s been almost a year since i posted a response to the first ghost story. i don’t quite understand why i never did so to this one.

    you were mighty brave to be walking alone in a foreign place, in the dark, i’d give you that. given the chance, do you think you’d do it again, just to see if the same thing happens?

    could the dry scraping sound you heard have been the flapping of the wings of a horrible creature? but i do believe it to be a vortex.

    Vortexes ( i like the way the word rolls off the tongue) exist practically everywhere. here in the Philippines, there’s a mystic mountain, Mt. Banahaw, that many believe is a vortex to the spiritual world, the spiritual world inhabited by positive spirits. Every year, at Holy Week, faith healers and devout religious-types climb the mountain to ‘re-charge’. Adjoining that mountain is Mt. Cristobal, which many believe is the Yang to Mt. Banahaw’s Yin. Stories abound from mountaineers who’ve been up these two mountains that we could fill volumes. One such story took place on Mt. Cristobal. A group started the trek late in the day, and took a route that would get them to the summit the fastest but would also require them to traverse a very dangerous precipice with only a fixed rope to cling on to. When the pointman (the lead climber) was halfway across, he saw a 10 year child about 10 feet ahead of him, and just standing there. Forgetting that he was on a precipice, he started chatting the kid up, asking him what he was doing there at that late hour, where his folks are. Between managing the crossing and talking to the kid, he was looking both at his hands and feet, and the kid, and he eventually wound up where the kid was seen the first time. It was then he realized that there was no way that a kid could be there unless he was floating on air, because they were a good 20 feet from the other end. He finished the traverse without any word, and didn’t tell his friends what happened until the next morning. As the mountain is considered to be a vortex for negative spirits, we believed it to be a malign spirit bent on causing injury or death by distracting the mountaineers at that very juncture.

    Scary what would have happened had you got a bit closer to the hole.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, RJ —

    There was no way in the world I was going to get any closer to that hole. The rasping sound was like someone trying to suck air through a very small opening and it followed me, as I said, until the lights of the hotel were clearly in front of me.

    I’d love to hear more about the ghosts of the Philippines. Do you blog about them anywhere? Do you want to do a guest blog here?

  3. RJ Baliza Says:

    hey tim,

    yeah, i’d love to do a guest blog here. in any case, i am writing about some of the more ‘interesting’ ghosts in the Philippines, and it’ll be in my book. but we can do a guest blog, for the meantime.

    RJ

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